Lights spoil UMW’s Homecoming, 33-21

Western running back Sam Rutherford, among the NAIA national leaders in rushing entering Saturday’s Homecoming game with MSU-Northern, was held in check with just 47 yards as the Lights upset the Dawgs, 33-21. J.P. Plutt photo

 

The sun and Montana Western broke through for a while in the third quarter, but MSU Northern and the cloud cover reasserted themselves to gray all over the rest of the 15th-ranked Bulldogs’ homecoming football game Saturday.

The visiting Northern Lights (4-1) earned a 33-21 upset win over Western (3-1), in large part, by throwing a steel blanket over what their hosts do best—run the football. While Northern racked up almost two hundred rushing yards, the Lights limited Western to 61 yards and top Dawg Sam Rutherford to 47 yards on the ground—about a fifth of their respective averages in the first three games this season.

Northern also reversed another key stat and trend that had been working this season in the previously undefeated Dawgs’ favor: turnover margin.

“We sure didn’t help ourselves with turnovers,” said Western Head Coach B.J. Robertson, who saw his team cough up the ball three times in the first half to the Lights.

Western got reminded of the power of the turnover with their lone takeaway, a first-quarter interception and 80-yard return for touchdown by DB Tim Mundaniohl that gave the Dawgs a 7-3 lead.

But Northern cashed in their three turnover gifts— two of which came on special teams and gave the Lights the ball in the Dawgs’ red zone—for 17 points and a lead they would never relinquish.

“We’re 3-0 when we win the turnover battle and 0-1 when we lose it,” Robertson advised his players after the game.

The visitors proved as adept at playing keep-away as  take-away. Behind their massive offensive line stacked with 300+ pond juco transfers, Northern ground out long scoring drives of 60-yards on 13-plays and 77-yards on 12-plays on their way to a 23-7 halftime lead.

Western regrouped and clawed back into the game in the third quarter with a pair of TD drives of their own.

“That was a proud point for us, to fight back and cut it to two points like that,” said Robertson, who saw touchdown runs by his running backs Dylan Kramer and Sam Rutherford reduce the Northern lead to 23-21.

“We had a great crowd for the game, and they really helped our guys come back in the second half.

“Unfortunately, we’d dug ourselves too big a hole and ran out of gas against their big bodies,” said Robertson.

Northern bridged the third and fourth quarters with a dozen-play drive for 72 yards and a TD with 12:41 left in the game to extinguish the Dawgs’ comeback and establish the final score, 30-21.

“We only got 20 offensive plays in first half and didn’t really get going until third quarter,” said Robertson, who played for the Bulldogs in the 1990s while attending Western.

“By the fourth, our defense had played a lot of snaps and was pretty worn down.”

Next up for Montana Western, a long road trip to play the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers, who on Saturday toppled fourth-ranked and previously unbeaten Carroll College, 35-31. 

“It’s the Frontier Conference—there aren’t any bye weeks,” said Robertson, who took over as Bulldog head coach this spring after serving as an assistant coach with Frontier Conference rivals Southern Oregon and Rocky Mountain College. 

“Eastern Oregon will be pretty amped up after their big win and waiting for us.”

EXTRA POINTS

*Montana Western substituted freshman Charlie Switzer for starting quarterback Tyler Hulse about halfway through the third quarter when Hulse suffered a concussion running for a first down.  Robertson said Hulse seemed symptom free on Monday, but will continue to be evaluated during the week, as will cornerback Scott Mundaniohl, who also suffered a concussion against Northern. 

*Freshman Tyler Murray had 5 catches for 56 yards against MSU Northern to become the fourth different player to lead Western in receiving in the Bulldogs’ four games this season; none of the four (Murray, A.J. Smith, Tyler Bergen and Collin Sale) led Western in receiving for a game last season. “All of our receivers are capable,” said Robertson, “and credit to our quarterbacks for making their reads and spreading the ball around, instead of just locking in on one receiver.” 

*Both Western and Northern employed a rugby punting style in the second half, with their punters running a few paces to the right after receiving snaps, and then booting the ball with a side-winding leg motion. “And it didn’t work for either of us,” said Robertson, who saw Northern uncork a trio of punts that averaged 27.3 yards, while his  Western punters averaged 19.6 yards on 5 efforts.

*The bad of the fumble by Western’s kickoff return team came on what was an otherwise pretty good day for the unit, which earned 155 yards on a half dozen returns, three of which took them over their 40 yard line. Western limited Northern’s kickoff return team to 75 yards on four attempts.

*Another special teams’ positive—Western foiled another opponent’s effort to tack on points after a touchdown, though one of the right goal posts at Vigilante Field actually deserves most of the credit for rejecting a Lights’ first half PAT attempt. It marked the third time a goal post has swatted down a FG or PAT attempt in a Western game this season.

*Western LB Kasey Griffith delivered a hit on a third-and-one play in the second half that sent a Northern running back careening backwards five yards into the Lights’ backfield.

*Western and Northern combined on the game for just 50 pass attempts—the same number that one team, Southern Oregon, attempted by itself at Dickinson St. in another Frontier Conference game on Saturday.

*Northern called two straight timeouts to contemplate a fourth-and-1 situation at Western’s 26 yard line with just over five minutes left in the game.

*Western saw one key stat held to about a fifth of its average in a positive sense, as the Dawgs got flagged for just 2 penalties and 25 yards for the entire game. Western effectively nullified one of those penalties—an interesting 15-yard personal foul call near the Northern goal line in the third quarter—by carrying the ball over that goal line a few plays later.